Two Valley farmworker deaths possibly heat-related

July 8, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The excessive heat-wave doesn't seem to be letting up as it continues to take its toll on outdoor workers. Now, Cal-OSHA is looking into two possible heat-related deaths -- all in one week of each other -- and in the Central Valley.

"Because of the fact that they occurred to someone that was working outdoors and it was definitely excessive heat. We included them as possibly or suspect heat-related," said Erika Monterroza, spokesperson with Cal-OSHA.

Last Tuesday, a 30-year-old farm worker died in a watermelon field near Coalinga.

On Friday, there was another death. In Tulare County, Juan Ochoa, 37, was found dead in a field in Richgrove.

"It's a concern for our industry. No matter if it's one death. We are concerned about how that happened and are we doing enough?" said Manuel Cunha with the Nisei Farmers League. He says the deaths are unfortunate but believes the Ag industry is doing enough to train workers and employers about the dangers of working in the heat.

But the United Farm Workers is vowing to push for tougher regulations. "This only proves that whatever the state is doing to protect these workers is obviously not working. With temperatures continuing to be over 100 degrees in the week to come, we need to see immediate compliance with all laws by all employers, which the state should encourage with aggressive enforcement of California's heat illness prevention regulation," said U.F.W president, Arturo Rodriguez.

"I think the union and the worker advocates want a regulation to where you can't meet it, so they want penalties," said Cunha. For now, farmers say they will continue to remind their workers to drink water and take plenty of breaks under some shade.

Coroners from Fresno and Tulare counties are conducting autopsies on the three men to determine their exact causes of death.


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